Watercolor by James G. Swan depicting the Klallam people of chief Chetzemoka at Port Townsend,
The name Potlatch is derived from Coast Salish Lushootseed potlatching, spelled xwsalikw, from xwɐš, meaning to "throw, broadcast, distribute goods," related to pús(u), "throw through the air, throw at," relating to the giving of gifts and food at such ceremonies. Even though there are variant names between each of the practicing tribes, the ceremony itself is actually quite uniformly practiced. - New World Encyclopedia
Section 3 of An Act Further to Amend The Indian Act, 1880 made the exercise of these practices a criminal offence:
"Every Indian or other person who engages in or assists in celebrating the Indian festival known as the "Potlatch" or in the Indian dance known as the "Tamanawas" is guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be liable to imprisonment ... and any Indian or other person who encourages ... an Indian or Indians to get up such a festival or dance, or to celebrate the same, ... is guilty of a like offense ..."
Potlatch ceremonies, depending upon the culture, could for example be held to celebrate the passing of names, titles and responsibilities of one chief to the eldest heir, distribute wealth, establish rank; to mark the passing of a chief or the head of a house; to celebrate weddings and births. Recognized as integral to the culture of coastal First Nations, the potlatch was targeted with particular force. The government and missionaries viewed potlatch ceremonies as excessive, wasteful and barriers to assimilation. - ICTINC
Potlatch: What I learned as a Guest - an article by Julie Domvile about what her experience of attending a Potlatch ceremony was like. It includes a helpful list of what to consider when attending an indigenous ceremony as a guest.
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